Vatican II and Modernity

By Guest Blogger Fr. Chris Winkeljohn

Gaudium et spes

Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, is a document that is different from other Council documents.  Not only is it addressed to men and women of the Church, but it is also addressed to all men and women of the world: Christian and non-Christian, believer and non-believer: “the whole human family” (GS 2).

At Vatican II, the Church saw it necessary to say something to the world for two reasons: because of what the Church is and because of what the world is.

Missionary Church

The Church exists for mission.  The Church exists to proclaim the Gospel to the world.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).  This is something that was emphasized in other documents of Vatican II (Lumen gentium, Ad gentes).  So it was only fitting that the Council issue a document in which it actually proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

The modern world, which the Church finds itself in the middle of, was (and still is) in a time of tremendous “social and cultural transformation,” of “swift upheavals spreading […] to all corners of the earth” (GS 4).  In the decades just preceding the Council, the world had experienced the “modern dilemma,” the fact that humanity was capable of both the greatest good and the greatest evil.   It the midst of so much potential for good and for evil, in the midst of so much societal change and uncertainty, the Church saw it as her duty to interpret these “signs of the times” in light of Jesus Christ, to remind the world of those things that are constant and unchanging, that serve as our foundation, and show humanity the right path to a future that is “worthy of its highest calling” (GS 10).

Jesus, Our True Measure

That thing which never changes is Jesus Christ, “who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (cf. Heb. 13:8, GS 10).  He knows “what is in man” (cf. Jn. 2:25), and it is in him alone that “the mystery of man truly becomes clear” (GS 22).  Humanity can and must understand itself in light of Jesus Christ because it is in his image that we were created (cf. Gen 1:26-27) we were made through him, we were made for him (cf. Col 1:16).  He is the perfect man who has restored to the human race its likeness to God (cf. GS 22).

Jesus Christ has revealed the love of the Father to which every human being is called and which every human being is called to imitate.  Indeed, it is only in living out and making one’s own this self-giving love of God that humanity can fully find itself (cf. GS 24).  This is a truth the must run through the whole of human society: through family, culture, economics, social life and politics.

Gaudium et Spes reminds the modern world that only in light of the God who created, loved and redeemed us, from whom we come, in whose image we have been made, and to whom we tend, can humanity understand itself and know the path it must walk, to make a future that is worthy of men and women, and worthy of God.

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